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Homeowners should stop objecting to development and instead have “constructive rows” with officials to ensure better housing is built in the countryside, the planning minister has said.
In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, Nick Boles admitted the Government could not defeat “Nimbys” and appealed for compromise in the face of a growing Tory backlash in the countryside over controversial planning reforms.
Mr Boles called on opponents of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), which came into force in March, to redirect their energy into engaging with ministers “rather than just saying, ‘We don’t want any of it’.”
His appeal comes in the wake of the Government’s embarrassing climbdown over a scheme to make it easier to build conservatories and first floor extensions.
It is the latest sign of a more conciliatory approach from senior Conservative figures in the wake of last week’s local elections which saw David Cameron rejected by some, core supporters.
Ministers have previously attacked opponents of planning reform - accusing them of threatening to derail the economic recovery for selfish reasons.
However, Mr Boles today admits that he has “no idea” whether the storm caused by his reforms could lead to him being replaced as planning minister.
Speaking in Poundbury, the model village in Dorset created by Prince of Wales 20 years ago, Mr Boles conceded that the Government will never defeat “nimbyism” but said he wants to work with protesters to “channel” their anger.
“No, I don’t think you can defeat it,” Mr Boles said. “But can you manage it, can you channel it?
“What we want to do is persuade people who might currently put all their energy into objecting into taking part in neighbourhood planning processes, commenting on local plans, getting involved in a design review process, actually articulating what they want from new development - accepting that we all need the new development because we all have kids or nieces or nephews or people we know who desperately need places to live.”
Mr Boles hailed the “principles underlying” Poundbury and said that the village is an example of development that is “not just concreting over green fields but actually trying to create a place.”
He added: “We’re never not going to have rows about development. But at least it might be a slightly more constructive row that ends up with more houses being built and more beautiful places like Poundbury.”
However, Mr Boles does today rebuke Sir Simon Jenkins, the chairman of the National Trust, who earlier this year said the countryside is in a state of warfare because of planning disputes.
The planning minister said it is “ludicrous” and “inhumane” to suggest that people born in the countryside should have “no right” to expect to be able to buy an affordable house near to where they were born.
Mr Boles attacked National Trust chairman Sir Simon, who in March said “local Britain will be a warfare area” because people are fighting “random developments”.
Mr Boles said: “He’s a great man who’s done many great things with his life but I think he’s absolutely wrong on this. There is no war.
There is a desperate need for housing and that need for housing is, if anything, even more acute in the countryside than anywhere else and the suggestion that people have no right to expect to be able to buy a home near where they grew up if they happen to have been born in Devon where I’m from or the Cotswolds…is, I think, ludicrous and inhumane
The minister’s comments came after the Government was forced to a law change to ensure that neighbours can veto unsightly extensions and conservatories after a Commons rebellion led by Zac Goldsmith, the Tory MP for Richmond Park.
David Cameron had unveiled plans last September to allow homeowners to build ground floor extensions for some properties of up to 26 feet without planning permission, twice the current limit.
The Prime Minister said the relaxation of the permitted development rules, for a specified two-year period, would stimulate a much needed boost to the construction industry.
However, there were immediate concerns from planners and councils that the changes would prompt rows between neighbours about their building plans.
The rebellion by Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs prompted Eric Pickles, the Local Government Secretary, to plead in the House of Commons for some “help” and to pledge to come back with fresh plans.
“It’s never great to realise that you have not managed to persuade people of your proposal,” Mr Boles said.
“But having said which I think that where we ended up was a very intelligent balance and I rather want to salute Zac Goldsmith for the role he played in getting us there. Because where we’ve ended up is saying that yes development, even single-storey developments, extensions, can have an effect on the immediate neighbours and those immediate neighbours should be given an opportunity to say what they think.
“But if they’re happy with it, then actually there’s no reason to have a complicated, bureaucratic process.”
Mr Boles said the next stage of his reforms will be to relax planning rules on converting agricultural and business premises into homes.
Addressing future opponents of the new scheme Mr Boles added: “The more offices that get converted to houses and the more agricultural buildings that get converted to houses, the fewer houses we have to build on green fields.”
Asked whether he will still be planning minister in 2015 despite the controversy caused by his reforms Mr Boles added: “I have no idea… I do feel sometimes that I’m the point on the end of the battering ram and maybe once my point is blunted I’ll be cast off and replaced by a new sharper implement. But for the moment I’m very happy and the Prime Minister gets to decide these things, not me.”